The Notebooks

The Yellow Notebook

UK Edition
US Edition


Previous page
with comments


See all


Next page
with comments


He looked at her, grinning. He was not surprised. He was — interested. Yes, thought Ella, he’s interested. Well, good for him; she liked him for it. Suddenly he put back his broad healthy head and whooped: ‘Boy, oh boy, would I? Yes, sir, Ella, if you hadn’t said that I wouldn’t have known what to say.’

‘I know,’ she said, smiling demurely. (She could feel this demure smile, and marvelled at it.) She said, demurely: ‘Well, now, sir, I think you should set me at my ease, or something.’

He grinned. He was standing across the room from her; and she saw him as all flesh, a body of warm, abundant, exuberant flesh. Very well then, that’s what it would be. (At this point, Ella detached herself from Ella, and stood to one side, watching and marvelling.)

She got up, smiling, and deliberately pulled off her dress. He, smiling, took off his jacket, and stripped off his shirt.

In bed, it was a delightful shock of warm tense flesh. (Ella was standing to one side, thinking ironically: Well, well!) He penetrated her almost at once, and came after a few seconds. She was about to console or be tactful, when he rolled on his back, flung up his arms, and exclaimed: ‘Boy. Oh boy!’

(At this point Ella became herself, one person, both of them thinking as one.)

She lay beside him, controlling physical disappointment, smiling.

‘Oh boy!’ he said, contented. ‘That’s what I like. No problems with you.’

She thought this one out slowly, her arms around him. Then he began talking of his wife, apparently at random. ‘Do you know what? We go to the club, dancing, two, three nights a week. You know, that’s the best club in the town. All the boys look at me and think, lucky bastard! She’s the prettiest girl there, even after five kids. They are thinking we have a whale of a time. Oh boy, and sometimes I think, suppose I told them — we have five kids. And we’ve had it five times since we married. Well, I’m exaggerating, but that’s about it. She’s not interested, though she looks as if she is.’

‘What’s the trouble?’ asked Ella, demure.

‘Search me. Before we got married, when we were dating, she was hot enough then. Oh boy, when I think!’

‘How long were you — dating?’

‘Three years. Then we got engaged. Four years.’

‘And you never made love?’

‘Made love — oh, I see. No, she wouldn’t let me, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to. But everything but. And she was hot then, boy, when I think! And then on the honeymoon she froze up. And now I never touch her. Well, if we’re tight after a party sometimes.’ He let out his youthful energetic laugh, throwing his large brown legs up and letting them fall. ‘And we go dancing, she’s all dressed to kill, and all the boys looking at her and envying me, and I think: if they just knew!’

The Notebooks

The Yellow Notebook

UK Edition
US Edition


What is this?

You last read


You last bookmarked


Bookmark currentBookmarked!
Page 258



  1. Laura Kipnis November 30th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Bad sex, oblivious men, female passivity and accommodation, women’s self-alienation … Ick. (Glad we’ve transcended all of that!)

  2. Naomi Alderman November 30th, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Oh this all made me so sad. Not only Ella’s experience, which is deeply depressing, but also the account of the marriage. “she was hot then, boy, when I think! And then on the honeymoon she froze up. And now I never touch her.” So incredibly sad. There seems to be a polarisation between ‘good girls’ who never want sex but are allowed to be married, ‘bad girls’ who never get married but are allowed to want sex. I can’t help but read your comment that we’ve ‘transcended’ all these problems as sarcastic, Laura (forgive me if I’m wrong!). But I do think some things have got better. I hope so.

    1. Laura Kipnis December 1st, 2008 at 11:46 am

      Naomi: Yes, sarcastic for sure. (Or ironic, anyway.) But as others have said, it’s what’s sometimes disheartening about the book: how familiar so much of this seems. Though I’d like to think there’s a BIT less male sexual ineptitude, but… who knows? The fact that Ella goes back for a repeat performance is what I find baffling. Because she likes him, as she says?? Or is it just that she’s trying to get over Paul, and having bad rebound sex–that seems a little more comprehensible.

  3. Philippa Levine December 1st, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Ella in charge! Ella teaching! Ella not acquiescing to Paul’s demands and needs! There’s something interesting going on here, I think, where Ella’s sexuality assumes an adult, even a tutorial, role.

  4. Harriet Rubin December 7th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    “Ella in charge.” “Ella teaching.” Ella Geisha! Except she’s not even getting paid for pleasuring this guy and listening to his dimwitted tales. I know so many Ellas that to read these pages makes me feel faint. I don’t so much care why Ella gives up her time, energy and pleasure for this lout who seems a walk-on from a Philip Roth novel–as much as I wish she could channel her despair into more useful and satisfying activities. I realize I keep reading TGN as if it were Pilgrim’s Progress…. but that’s how I read it first, years ago, as a primer for how to live.

    Have things gotten better, as Naomi hopes? The growing numbers of divorces in the US suggests that male sexual inepitude is not on the wane.

    1. Philippa Levine December 7th, 2008 at 4:01 pm

      I’m going to have to disagree a bit here, Harriet. I think there’s a way in which this is an important moment for Ella/Anna — the guy may be an uncouth dimwit (love that word!) with little appreciation for women’s sexuality, but for Ella the act of taking charge, of being (literally and metaphorically?) on top is a liberating experience. She doesn’t do much ego-stroking, and to me she comes across here as determined and self-possessed. Sure it’s a pity to waste that on a philistine, but it seems to me to mark less a moment of subservience than a moment of independence — really critical for her at this time, surely?